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In June 2010, at the age of 35, Jennifer Gilbert felt alone in the world. Her brother was suffering from a terminal brain disease(and died two and half years later), her father passed away and her mother was caring for her grandmother in South Carolina. This recently divorced young woman accepted a new job as a veterinarian tech at a horse hospital in New Jersey where she didn’t know a soul. That’s when she began to experience uncontrollable bleeding and pain, which continued for several months. She sought medical attention from local physicians, but after several rounds of testing, no one had an answer. Finally, during a pelvic exam, a gynecologist suspected what could be wrong. Jennifer had cervical cancer.
An MRI revealed the mass was 2½ centimeters and had spread from her cervix to her uterus and into the upper part of her vagina. Although she was frightened, Jennifer was somewhat relieved to finally have an answer – and a plan of attack. Jennifer was referred to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
In December 2010, Jennifer underwent a radical hysterectomy where she learned the cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes. This would prove to be problematic for Jennifer.
After recovering from surgery, Jennifer was ready for chemotherapy. Because she had no family in the area, she couldn’t drive back and forth to Fox Chase in Philadelphia. Fortunately, Fox Chase has a partner hospital in South Jersey, close to Jennifer’s home. At Virtua Regional Cancer Center, Jennifer’s doctors were able to schedule her chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Fridays so she could work all week, have her treatment and recover over the weekend.
“Exercise is really important to me, so I ran as often as I could,” explained Jennifer. “It’s not only healthy, but therapeutic.” Within a few months, Jennifer began to experience severe swelling in her legs. She was diagnosed with lymphedema.
Jennifer had lymphedema therapy at Fox Chase Cancer Center with noticeable results.
“I worked with several lymphedema therapists over the next few years, and while my symptoms could be managed, I was never back to normal,” Jennifer added. One of her favorite therapists was Wilma Morgan-Hazelwood at Fox Chase. “After working with Wilma, my swelling in my leg had reduced from 35 percent to 14 percent, with some fluctuation and I was able to resume my exercise schedule.”
Fortunately, Jennifer continued working with horses and began to meet new friends. In 2012, she met a fellow horse owner, Nick Gilbert. “We had so much in common and quickly fell in love,” Jennifer beamed. Nick and Jennifer both enjoy fishing, boating, skeet shooting, hunting and obviously, riding horses. But Jennifer continued to suffer from lymphedema.
“When my leg blew up, I told Nick he didn’t have to stay,” admitted Jennifer, who didn’t want to be a burden to him. But he stuck around and eventually, proposed to Jennifer. In June 2013, Nick and Jennifer got married.
Dr. Patel at Fox Chase performed a new procedure to reduce swelling caused by lymphedema.
Just before the wedding, Jennifer was referred to Sameer Patel, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Fox Chase. He recently began performing a new procedure to reduce swelling that results from lymphedema. “Dr. Patel was incredible and I felt completely confident in his care,” said Jennifer, who figured she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“The surgery was a miracle,” exclaimed Jennifer, whose swelling decreased to a miraculous one percent after surgery. Jennifer continues to practice her exercises that Wilma taught her, but she feels closer to normal much of the time.
The treatment hasn’t slowed her down. Jennifer and Nick have a big family – five horses (Star, Zeuss, Beauty, T. and Boo) along with a Beagle Border Collie named Maebelle, who often serves as Jennifer’s running partner. They help take care of a farm, where they are raising 15 chickens, three goats, seven sheep and an alpaca.
"I am extremely grateful to everyone at Fox Chase for the compassionate care I received."
“I am extremely grateful to everyone at Fox Chase for the compassionate care I received. Dr. Patel is innovative and works extra hard to make sure his patients have the best outcomes,” Jennifer shared. “Now that everything has come together for me, I can truly enjoy my life!”